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Why schools can’t do without politicians

Why schools can’t do without politicians
James Croft interviews Sir Michael Barber about his latest book and discusses its implications for education policy and the business of schooling
with opening remarks from CMRE's President, Neil McIntosh CBE

Sponsored by Dukes Education

When: Tuesday 6th October 2015, 6.30 for 7.00 to 8.30pm
Where: 2 Lord North Street (Great Peter Street entrance), Westminster, London SW1P 3LB

Sir Michael Barber is Chief Education Advisor at Pearson, leading the development of its worldwide programme of efficacy and research into the learning impact of its education services offering. He plays a particular role in Pearson’s strategy for education in the developing world, and is Chairman of the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Prior to Pearson, he was a Partner at McKinsey & Company and Head of McKinsey’s global education practice. He previously served the UK government as Head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (from 2001-2005) and as Chief Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education on School Standards (from 1997-2001). Before joining government he was a professor at the Institute of Education at the University of London. Michael is the author of numerous books and papers on education reform and, more recently, of How to run a government, drawing on his experience working with governments on public service reform in more than 50 countries.

Why schools can’t do without politicians

The effectiveness or otherwise of governments is fundamental to the prosperity and well-being of society, and of markets. In a time when politicians struggle to make and fulfil meaningful promises in face of the weight of expectations on them and the sheer complexity of delivery, fresh thinking is required to overcome the barriers to implementation presented by the public bureaucracies that have developed as a result.

In education, bureaucratic growth at central government and regulator levels has been further driven by an over-reliance on command and control approaches, which for Barber are best reserved for addressing only the most serious of service failures. As a result of these dynamics, there is a growing tendency among public educators to attribute to politicians the cause of the system’s ills and, accordingly, to advocate for greater professional trust and more distributed responsibility for delivery across multiple independent bodies charged with different aspects of overall system functioning. Barber argues that this approach is fundamentally vulnerable to producer capture, overly input-reliant solutions, and complacency. Greater choice and competition in public services may form part of the answer (provided the incentives are geared towards achieving socially desirable as well as efficient outcomes), but needs managing. Skilled political leadership is more important than ever for determining the priorities and ensuring successful implementation of policy.